Books: Lost in the Translation

Soul Mountain, a novel by the new Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian, makes a rocky debut in English

When it announced in October that Gao Xingjian had become the first Chinese author to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy singled out for particular praise his "great novel" Soul Mountain, calling it "one of those singular literary creations that seem impossible to compare with anything but themselves." Proving that fate sometimes smiles on publishers, an English rendition of Soul Mountain (HarperCollins; 510 pages; $27) was in the works well before the Nobel hullabaloo made its author an international celebrity, and has now arrived with the unexpected imprimatur of the Swedish Academy.

For a variety of reasons,...

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